tv Religion Ethics Newsweekly PBS February 24, 2013 10:00am-10:30am PST
coming up, saul gonzales reports from colorado springs that one of the most influential evangelical groups is re-thinking its conservative image. >> we can come across as very harsh, too harsh. and kim lawton on a group trying to document every house of worship in new york city, block by block. >> major funding for "religion and ethics weekly" is profounded by lilian, dedicated to the
founders' interest in religion and education. additional funding also provided by mutual of america. designing customized individual and group retirement products. that's why we're your retirement company. and the corporation for public broadcasting. >> welcom i'm bob abeeth it's good to have you with us. anticipation is growing over the selection of the next pope, following pope benedict xvi's surprise announcement that he is retiring. at one of his final public appearances, benedict asked for prayers for himself and his successor. he then entered a week long retreat amid wide speculation that the papal conclave might begin before march 15th, giving the cardinals more time to select the next pope before holy week. meanwhile, some american catholics are demanding cardinal roger mahony not attend the
conclave because of his role in the clergy sex abuse crisis. recently released documents show the former archbishop of los angeles covered up abuse by priests. also, this week, the president of the u.s. conference of catholic bishops, cardinal timothy dolan of new york was formally questioned by lawyers for sex abuse victims. the deposition centered on dolan's handling of abuse while he oversaw the milwaukee archdiocese. as president obama this week urged congress to prevent massive federal spending cuts from going into effect march 1st, many religious groups argued the so-called sequester would disproportionately impact low-income americans. although social security, medicare and some anti-poverty programs are protected, the groups pointed to likely cuts in programs that provide food and other assistance. they called those cuts unconscionable and immoral.
human rights and religious freedom advocates are ramping up pressure on iran to release an iranian-born american christian pastor who was recently sentenced to eight years in prison there. saeed abedini was convicted last month of threatening iran's national security by helping to expand the house church movement. 80 members of the u.s. congress wrote to secretary of state john kerry calling on him to exhaust every possible option to secure abedini's release. we have a special report today on the city in the u.s. that has become nearly as identified with evangelical protestants as rome is with catholics or mecca, with muslims. it is colorado springs, colorado, where our correspondent saul gonzales found that the most prominent religious institution there, focus on the family, is tryin t to soften its image as an
ultra-conservative leader in the culture wars. >> reporter: with pike's peak as a backdrop, the citizens of colorado springs aren't shy about telling visitors about what makes their community so special. there's the u.s. olympic training center, and the united states air force academy, historic neighborhoods with fine old homes, and lots of ways to enjoy a healthy, outdoor lifestyle. however among many american christians, colorado springs is also known for something else, as an epicenter of evangelical faith and activism. that's partly because of the high-profile mega-churches in the community, but mostly because of the sheer number of national evangelical christian groups headquartered here. in fact, there are so many christian groups in this community, colorado springs has earned something of a reputation and a nickname, america's christian mecca.
>> we are so glad that you came to be a part of the presence of god that is in this house today. amen. >> reporter: for some people of faith in colorado springs, like kimberly lieu, the christian presence is so strong, they stay they felt a spiritual calling to move here. kimberly came here from hawaii. >> we just came here sight unseen. i know now that it was the lord leading us. >> reporter: the lord brought you here? >> i believe that absolutely. i wasn't pursuing him at the time, he was pursuing me. >> reporter: but what brought the big christian groups to colorado springs? well, a major factor was an economic development program started by the city's government more than two decades ago. >> the economic development council at the time, this is in the late 1980s, they were looking to attract christian ministries. >> reporter: glenn paauw is the director of bibla, o of america's largest bible publishers. it was lured to colorado springs from new york state in the 1980s. the city gave biblica incentives in return for the jobs the
organization brought to the community. >> the total is going to come to $16.99. >> reporter: it now employs nearly 100 people in colorado springs. >> they came to us and said there is already a center here in colorado springs of other christian ministries, so your networking possibilities, your ability to find staff who want to work in a christian organization and contribute to your global ministry, that's going to be easierfor you to do. >> reporter: however the biggest and most powerful christian organization that came to colorado springs, in this case from california, also became the most controversial group in town. it's the conservative public policy organization focus on the family, which has long been a political lightning rod because of its conservative stance on hot button social issues, such as abortion and gay rights. jim daly is focus on the family's president and ceo. he doesn't apologize for his organization's conservative positions, but he acknowledges the fear and anger they often stir. >> well, you know the caricature is a problem, and i think -- >> reporter: what's the caricature of focus on the
family? >> yeah. i think that caricature can be "hard right," "ultra right." it's because those are labels that are used to describe the organization. i don't care too much about what grade culture gives us. the question is are we on the right side of what the scripture would require of christians to live out. >> reporter: that right side is on display at focus on the family's colorado springs campus, which includes a multimillion dollar visitor center. in it, messages about the importance of faith and conservative family values take center stage. however, even as christian evangelicals continue to organize in this beautiful corner of colorado to fulfill their vision of america, some within these groups are starting to reassess their activism. they wonder just how deeply they should be involved in american politics and whether they should start building bridges to people who don't agree with them. >> you have been welcomed into the family of god. >> reporter: and who's leading this rethink in colorado springs' conservative christian community? maybe surprisingly, it's focus
on the family. do you consider yourself a culture warrior? >> no, i really don't. i don't think the label is a healthy one. and i think often times in the christian conservative community, we are not expressing love of our fellow man. >> reporter: how so? >> we can come across as very harsh, too harsh. and i think these are lessons that we've already seen written about in the new testament, when the religious leaders of the day, when jesus was on the scene and they had a very con -- condescending view of sinners, people that didn't measure up. we've got to be very careful now not to repeat that same mistake because from where i sit there are two billboards that come out of the new testament salvation through jesus christ and don't become a pharisee, a religious bigot. >> i can still remember where i was when i saw picture of fetal development. >> reporter: now, focus on the family is still squarely against
gay marriage and legalized abortion, positions expressed in videos like this one produced by the group. however, daly says the stern messages and moralizing of many conservative christians over divisive social issues have turned off too many americans, especially young people. he also believes christians have become too involved in bare-knuckle politics, sometimes focusing more on winning elections than cultivating their faith. >> if christian leadership has become so much about winning and victory, it turns us into the predator and the world our prey. >> reporter: focus on the family has been frequently criticized for its own political activism, particularly under its founder and former leader dr. james dobson, who left the group in 2010. while he was in charge, dobson frequently attacked liberals, feminists, and gay activists. he also endorsed conservative political candidates, like george w. bush and several members of congress, while criticizing barack obama as a political and social radical.
>> and we continue now with dr. james dobson. he's the founder of focus on the family, dr. dobson. >> reporter: for instance, here's dobson in 2009 on fox news' "sean hannity show." he talked about what he believed was president obama's misunderstanding of america's religious culture. >> it does bother me, and it also bothers me that he doesn't seem to understand those judeo-christian values and roots. >> reporter: although jim daly doesn't criticize james dobson directly, he does say political activism by christian evangelical leaders has often been a mistake. >> i think for christians we should have calculated that a little differently, and not to be wrapped around the axle of politics. because the issues we are dealing with, although they are in the arena of politics, when we get to abortion and marriage and other things, i think we let the rhetoric capture our hearts, so we came across as more patisan than i thk wshou have. >> reporter: how much has daly changed? just listen to how he talks about america's growing acceptance of gay marriage. he doesn't like it, but he accepts its reality in many states.
>> i think in this area of gay marriage, or recognizing gay union, the culture is going to make that decision. here's the bottom line, if it happens, will i shriek and run around in circles? no. >> reporter: the leader of focus on the family also says it's important for evangelical christians to reach out and start talking to groups they've usually battled with in the public arena. that ranges from gay rights organizations to the pro-choice group planned parenthood. >> if we are just going to build a fortress, hunker down, and try to ride it out, that is not a very good strategy, so i feel certainly one of the clarion calls for the christian is to engage the culture, to reach out. >> reporter: in colorado springs, we saw a small example of that reaching out by focus on the family. >> no, you are intolerant, but you are not hateful. >> reporter: every couple of weeks focus on the family's rajeev shaw, who does community outreach for his organization, sits down to discuss city issues with john weiss.
he's the publisher of the town's "alternative press weekly" and one of colorado springs' best known liberals. weiss says he's seen a big change in focus on the family's willingness to engage with one-time enemies in the community. >> under the prior leadership, we were distant. we did not communicate except through verbal barbs and ad campaigns. there was the gay pride parade in town and there were messages "god hates fags" and stuff like that. there's a new kinder,ore listening, view at focus. >> reporter: really, you really see the change in tone? >> it's a total change in tone, not in ideology, but for us to come together and chat and have dialogue, and say where can we work together? >> reporter: shaw admits, though, that these conversations have been, well, a process. >> it's difficult to hear the other side. it's difficult to hear someone disagree with you. it's difficult to hear fair-minded, reasonable people making cases against what you believe.
and we all by nature, we like people to agree with us. but i think the question that we have answer is what is the best possible good for our community. and is the best possible good for us is to come together on an issue or series of issues? absolutely. >> reporter: in the case of weiss and shaw, those issues include finding ways to help foster children in the community. focus on the family's jim daly acknowledges that these kinds of overtures to ideological and religious adversaries haven't endeared him to some on his side of the cultural divide. >> that's one thing that is occasionally mentioned from people on my side of the debate, that i've raised that white flag of surrender simply because i'm saying i can't control what the world does. and i think that is one of the problems today, that we've become so partisan, that we don't spend time with one another and i think that's a great weakness. >> reporter: so a question is
will colorado springs, the community that's sometimes synonymous with conservative christianity, also become the place where people with conflicting views can set aside their differences and find a little bit of comn grnd? for "religion and ethics newsweekly," i'm saul gonzalez in colorado springs. faith isn't often the first thing that comes to mind when people are talking about new york city, but there may be more religious practice going on there than many realize. a group called "a journey through nyc religions" is trying to search o and visit every house of worship in the city -- thousands of them. kim lawton reports. >> reporter: new york has been called the most secular city in america. but don't tell that to tony carnes. he has made it his mission to systematically document all the
religious sites in new york's five boroughs, as he puts it, block by block, alleyway by alleyway. he and his team of freelancers have found a lot to document. >> new york is experiencing a religious surge. >> reporter: the project is called "a journey through nyc religions." since they began in july of 2010, carnes and his team have visited nearly 6,500 houses of worship and other religious sites. he estimates that's more than 70% of them. they interview, photograph, videotape, even draw, and post their articles and other material on their website, nycreligions.info. carnes says he launched the project because he believed a vital part of new york life was being given short shrift. >> i noticed two things -- one, that religion was really booming here in the city and i also noticed it wasn't covered very intensively. >> reporter: carnes says for his team, each visit, or journey, should be an adventure.
>> a classic journey is we just go cold. and we try to perfect a, sort of like a foreign journalist parachuting in a land and making a real sync with people and really getting into the story all in one day. now if we find something that's really interesting, we would go down in deep and we'll come back. >> reporter: on this weekend, we followed along as they focused on the historic neighborhood around eldridge street on manhattan's lower east side. in the late 1800s, this was a predominantly jewish neighborhood, where many eastern european immigrants worked in the garment industry and lived in crowded tenements. in the 1920s, new legal restrictions curtailed jewish immigration and the neighborhood slowly became a center for greek immigrants. then, new york's famous chinatown began spilling over and the street took on a distinctly asian character. today, latino families are
moving in, as are muslims from asia and africa. >> people's faith paths come from all over the world and flow into eldridge street from the head of it and then go on down to the end and you have the history of world religions. right here. >> reporter: our first stop, a saturday morning service at the buddhist association of new york, where monks and nuns in the mahayana tradition are chanting the lotus sutra. many of the people here are fujinese-speaking chinese immigrants, but after talking with some of the leaders, carnes and his associate, christopher smith, learn the temple is reaching out to people from other backgrounds as well. when they visit a site, "a journey's" reporters begin with a set list of questions they ask everybody. >> what's unique about this place? if you came to me and you said, "tony, you should come to our congregation because --" well, what's that's because? how do you impact your neighborhood or your network of people? >> reporter: after the buddhist
temple, smith heads over to the aasafa islamic center, to catch a quran memorization class for young immigrants from bangladesh. smith is a former bond trader on wall street who left business to attend seminary. he now interns at the historic abyssinian baptist church in harlem. he says visits like this enhance his faith practice. >> learning the scriptures is important in many walks of faith, and it's a struggle for me a sunday school teacher. but to see kids dedicated to studying the scriptures on a saturday afternoon is inspiring. >> reporter: carnes encourages his freelancer reporters to practice a philosophy of journalism he calls "sympathetic objectivity." >> we start off with sympathy right up front. we do move to objectivity, but we tell our reporters, who are from all different walks of faith, as long as you do that, you can write, cover anybody you want. >> reporter: carnes is open about the fact that he's an evangelical christian.
but he denies that "a journey" is a covert effort to convert people. he says the project has affected his own practice. >> i think i've had a really a spiritual transformation. i still am a believer in jesus and, you know, and an evangelical, christian, but to me it's a journey of my own faith. "a journey" has made me more free to listen to people. and that may sound like a small thing, but it's actually pretty big. >> reporter: he says he wants people to value what sets them apart. >> we believe that people don't have to give up their faith to relate to others. we want to say, you can talk about your differences. you do things differently and that's pretty interesting. and we want show how terestinghings are. >> pluralism doesn't have to mean that everybody comes to the same conclusion eventually. it can mean in a vibrant city like this that there's many experiences that coexist, sometimes on one street or even in a block. >> reporter: "a journey's"
members say they've been amazed at how open various houses of worship have been for them. but sometimes, they do strike out. >> i don't think they're here, guys. >> i don't think they're here. >> at the end of a long day of journeying, the team often reconvenes at a neighborhood restaurant to debrief. for recent college graduate chloe nwangwu, this has been an opportunity to see how what she learned in school works out in real life. >> it's very easy to sort of speak for or assume certain things about religious experiences, but you know, unless you actually go out and get the word on the street you can't really speak to that. >> reporter: "a journey's" firsthand reporting often turns conventional wisdom on its head. for example, in the fall of 2010, when protests erupted over plans to build an islamic center near ground zero, media outlets and political leaders made certain assumptions in talking about the controversy. >> everybody said there were,
you know, 99 mosques in the city. well, the problem with that figure is we had visited 170 mosques. we knew that that was just nonsense. >> reporter: "a journey" now has 230 mosques on its list. sunday morning in the eldridge street neighborhood is a vivid picture of how religion in new york continues to evolve. carnes and his team begin at st. barbara's greek orthodox church, where the priest is doing the rituals to prepare for the worship service to come. this used to be a synagogue. st. barbara's thrived after its founding in 1926. now only a few greek families still live in the parish, although many come back to worship here on holidays. a few blocks away, the new york chinese alliance church has become one of the establishment congregations. there's a traditional protestant service upstairs in mandarin, and an english service led by the yoh downstairs.
a few blocks beyond that, lamb's church illustrates even more changes. the evangelical congregation is holding worship in three languages, english, spanish, and a simultaneous translation into mandarin. pastor gabriel salguero, who is president of the national latino evangelical coalition, says religion is often an underestimated part of the city's life. >> faith leaders are thought leaders just like wall street and the government. we are one section that influences thought and the direction of the city. >> reporter: the final sunday stop is where it all began, the historic eldridge street synagogue, once the jewel of the neighborhood. >> people coming through these doors when it was built 125 years ago, were living in very small apartments, it was very dirty and very crowded out those streets here. and as you came in here, you really transitioned into another world. >> reporter: by the 1960s, the building had fallen into disrepair.
but, after a $20 million restoration project, the synagogue has become a museum, preserving the history and offering programs to help jews from other neighborhoods explore their traditions, such as this special event to celebrate tu b'shevat, the new year for trees. "a journey's" members say new york's religious diversity is playing out in similar ways throughout the u.s. >> i think we're a microcosm of intense interaction but it happens in a healthy way across the country. >> reporter: and carnes says he hopes documenting the challenges, celebrations and uniqueness of new york religion can be a model for elsewhere. >> on many things, they're not gonna agree on everything, but to live with each other, value each other, to cherish each other, and to say, well, in these areas where we do agree we can do something for the sake of the city and if we can do that here in new york, then i think we actually have a paradigm that can work in cairo, have a paradigm that can work in
mumbai. >> reporter: i'm kim lawton in new york. tony carnes expects to visit 1100 n york city religious site on our calendar, this weekend, jews celebrate purim when children join in the re-telling of the story of queen esther and the jews' deliverance from a plot to destroy them. the long tale is called the megillah, from which any other long, complicated story has come to be called the whole megillah. and finally, in fredricksburg, virginia, members of the episcopal church joined other religious and community leaders in a civil war era church to mark the 150th anniversary of the emancipation proclamation. episcopal presiding bishop katharine jefferts schori led a service asking for forgiveness for the church's role in promoting and justifying
slavery. she spoke of the need to continue combatting all forms of prejudice. >> we will never be set completely free until all of us are freely and fully able to enjoy all the blessings of this life -- until there is justice for all. >> the service included a march through historic fredericksburg, where a sculpture was dedicated. it is located near the former site of a slave auction block. that's our program for now. i'm bob abernethy. you can follow us on twitter and facebook and watch us anytime on the pbs app for iphones and ipads. there's much more on our website. you can comment on all of our stories and share them. audio and vio podcasts are also available. join us at pbs.org. as we leave you, the israeli
gospel choir from tel aviv performing at congregation rodeph sholom in new york city. ♪ >> major funding for religion and ethics news weekly is provided by the lilly endowment, dedicated to the founders' interest in religion, community development and education. additional funding also provided by mutual of america. designing customized, individual and group retirement products. that's why we're your retirement company. and the corporation for public broadcasting.